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Sunday, November 29, 2009
Bears-Vikings: What a game!

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Early on Sunday morning, the man ultimately responsible for the disjointed, undermanned, underperforming football team that picked up eight lousy first downs in a shameful, desultory loss was trying to sneak in a workout.

So general manager Jerry Angelo, looking amiable and trim in his Chicago Bears blue gym clothes, quietly walked into the workout room in the team hotel in downtown Minneapolis and got on the only available machine, the exercise bike, and started pedaling.

Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler threw for 147 yards and two interceptions against the Vikings.

Normally, I wouldn't see fit to share such personal information, but the metaphor hit me so hard, I felt like Jay Cutler peeling his head off the turf after a visit by Jared Allen. There go the Bears: pedaling in place and going nowhere.

The Bears' criterium to 6-10 continued under the bright lights of the Metrodome with a 36-10 loss to the Super Bowl contender Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon. As far as civic embarrassments go, the Bears are like the 2009 Cubs, the 2016 Olympic bid and Rod Blagojevich's haircut rolled into one ugly package.

Losers of six of seven, and four in a row, the Bears (4-7) still have a great chance to make the playoffs. And by that, I mean the two-on-two volleyball playoffs at the Oasis in Cancun in early January. I hear it's quite competitive.

So what's left to play for, aside from a paycheck?

"I think pride will be an issue," defensive end Alex Brown said. "Heart and pride and seeing who enjoys playing the game of football. We have five games left, so we'll see who wants to play."

Five games? Can't we just simulate them on Madden and go our separate ways?

Of the Bears' seven losses, Sunday's ranks up there with the Cincinnati and Arizona beatdowns. Actually, it's much worse, because the offense was as bad as the defense, when it got on the field.

But if you throw out the second quarter, the Vikings (10-1) would have only won 12-3. Can we count that as a moral close loss?

"Judge the game based on what we did today," said coach Lovie Smith, his backside singed from his hot seat. "We didn't play well today. Last week we were in the football game; we met the challenge. We've been in this situation a couple of times. The rest of the time we met the challenge, we just haven't been able to get wins."

I don't know if Smith has lost this team, but it doesn't look good. The players like Lovie, and they certainly respect him, especially those that have been with him for most of his tenure, but the numbers aren't pretty, especially if you judge the team by its performance Sunday.

Here are some numbers to chew on:

0: The number of rushing first downs for the Bears, only the fifth time in franchise history this has happened.

Blown Away

The Bears brought Jay Cutler to Chicago with hopes of stretching the field behind a strong, accurate arm. However, the Vikings 40-year-old passer has proved to be much better throwing deep.

Passes Thrown 15+ Yds Downfield, 2009
Cutler Favre
Comp pct 40.5 54.7
Pass yds 805 1,116
TD-Int 6-9 7-0
Passer rtg 64.0 130.8

2: Number of yards for the Bears in the second half. Yes. Total yards. How did they get 2 yards in an entire half? Well, Matt Forte did have that key 7-yard carry.

31-8: The Vikings' first-down advantage.

2-for-8: The Bears' third-down conversions.

12-for-18: The Vikings' third-down conversions.

19:05: The Bears' time of possession.

40:55: The Vikings' time of possession.

18:02: The Bears' record for shortest time of possession, set in 1992 at Dallas.

OK, enough math. My head's starting to hurt, kind of like Ron Turner on third down.

"It's tough," Cutler said. "As good as a football team as we have in here, to then go out week after week and not live up to our own expectations, that's a tough one."

Cutler didn't get many chances to shine. He tied the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter on a "Eureka!" pass to Johnny Knox. Knox burned his man to the end zone, and Cutler, as he was getting harassed, threw a perfect pass while his rookie was in full stride.

The Vikings matched that with another score on another Favre touchdown pass and Knox fumbled the kickoff return, leading to a field goal and a 17-7 lead.

Cutler marched the Bears down the field, going from their own 21 to the Vikings' 22, before he tried for Knox again in the end zone, only this time he threw it short, right to cornerback Cedric Griffin playing underneath. It wasn't a tough guess for Griffin, as Cutler was staring Knox down harder than a nettlesome reporter.

"It was an interception," Cutler said, eloquent as always.

After a Vikings punt, Cutler again moved the Bears into Minnesota territory, and this time his pass to Earl Bennett was deflected by a handsy defender into the waiting arms of Allen, who later kept his promise to lay out his buddy Cutler a couple of times.

Seven plays and 70 yards later, Favre had another passing touchdown and the Vikings led 24-7 in a quarter that all but sums up the Bears' season.

Knox had a nifty 77-yard return to start the second half, but all the Bears got out of it was a field goal. That series was particularly telling. Matt Forte rushed once for no gain and Cutler took a pair of sacks.

"We've got to play better around him. We've got to execute better around him," said Ron Turner, who will almost certainly be watching Cutler's exploits exclusively on television next season. "We had a great kickoff return to get back in it, we get into the red zone, run it and don't get anything. On second down, the primary receiver he's looking for is not there. He ran the wrong route and so he's looking for a guy who should be there and he's not there. He would have been wide open, and [Cutler] gets sacked."

What Turner is basically saying is: I could coach the heck out of this guy if the rest of the guys around him extracted their heads from their hindquarters.

Brett Favre
Brett Favre torched the Bears for 392 yards passing Sunday.

The Bears' game plan is only as good as its talent, and vice versa. As it stands now, nothing's working on offense, which is unacceptable considering the upgrade the Bears got at quarterback. After all, could Kyle Orton throw for 20 interceptions in 11 games? Could Rex Grossman complete 18 passes for 147 yards? Well, yeah.

But that's not the point. Cutler would give his little black book for Favre's supporting cast. The Bears are only getting so much from Matt Forte, who ran eight times for 27 yards. Cutler's receivers are greener than the turf at "Mall of America Field" and make more mistakes than Brett Favre at his worst.

And anyway, shouldn't this be pinned on the defense for not slowing down Favre at all? I mean, at all?

The Bears' perpetually hobbled defense dealt with a slew of injuries, as Bears trainers spent more time on the field than the offense. Brown missed time in the first half with a leg injury. Lance Briggs went out, Zack Bowman and Charles Tillman left the game. On offense, Orlando Pace missed time. I think Brian Urlacher strained his thumb changing the channel at home. ("Hey, 'Ace of Cakes' is on!")

"It sucks," Brown said. "But it's part of the game, though. Injuries happen. You just kind of adjust and keep going."

Brown recovered a fumble in the first quarter that led to nothing, as usual.

The Vikings aren't Super Bowl contenders by accident. The addition of Favre turned a tweener into a powerhouse. Favre threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns (and no interceptions) as the Vikings rolled up 537 yards of offense, compared to 169 for the Bears in what can only be described as a very succinct offensive performance.

The Bears loaded up to stop Adrian Peterson and by and large they did, holding him to 85 yards on 25 carries with one late touchdown and one early fumble. It didn't matter much. Favre threw 48 passes and was only sacked once.

"I just thought we were getting a lot of tight fire zones and they were kind of leaving zones open," Vikings coach Brad Childress said; a nice way of saying the Bears played a soft cover-2, a startling realization that only Childress, his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and every single disgruntled Bears fan recognized early in the game.

"We wanted to stop Adrian and take our chances and see if Brett Favre can beat us, and he did," Brown said. "He threw for a bunch of yards and he threw touchdowns. He's good. He's a Hall of Famer."

At 40, Favre nearly had a record day against the Bears. In 1993, when Cutler was 10, Favre threw for a career-high 402 passing yards against the Bears. He had his way with Chicago for years until Smith stepped in and throttled the aging star. Favre was just 2-6, with a 3-1 interception-to-touchdown ratio, against Chicago until this game.

But this isn't the Bears defense that once confounded him, and his supporting cast is much, much stronger. Life has only gotten better for Favre, while the Bears -- now armed with a Favre wannabe and not much else -- are going nowhere fast.